Singapore Athletics VP’s Whatsapp message causes further discord in sport

Singapore Athletics VP’s Whatsapp message causes further discord in sport
Govindasamy Balasekaran, Singapore Athletics’ (SA) vice-president (training and selection). TODAY file photo
His message to chat group to gather evidence against coaches Oh and Yeo and get them punished ends up being widely circulated
Published: 7:18 PM, June 18, 2017
Updated: 12:29 PM, June 19, 2017

SINGAPORE — Leaked Whatsapp group chat messages between Govindasamy Balasekaran, Singapore Athletics’ (SA) vice-president (training and selection), and its secretariat staff has delivered yet another twist to the saga surrounding national sprinter Shanti Pereira and her coach Margaret Oh.

Veteran coach Oh had previously told TODAY that a member of SA’s executive committee had hinted at getting her into trouble so as to take disciplinary action against her. Over the past two months, she has been embroiled in a dispute with the association and its technical director Volker Hermann over Pereira’s attendance at a centralised training camp in Taiwan for the women’s 4x100m relay squad. 

Former SA chief executive officer Ong Yeok Phee posted a screenshot of the Whatsapp chat on Facebook between Balasekaran, Hermann and members of SA’s sports development and performance team on Sunday (June 18).

In that chat, Balasekaran wrote: “Just get good evidence so we can give it back to P (president Ho Mun Cheong). And force him to get disciplinary action on Margaret and David (Yeo, pole vaulter Rachel Yang’s coach). He will then shut up as they are his favourites.

“...Margaret needs to get into trouble so we can take action on her.”

The Facebook post has since been widely circulated among the fraternity.

The shocking development comes just days after TODAY reported that Hermann had warned Oh and Pereira that the latter - the reigning SEA Games 200m champion - would be dropped from the 4x100m relay team for the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in August if she did not attend the training camp. 

When contacted on Sunday, Oh said: “I’m very stressed over this incident. This is getting too personal. I dared to speak out, so am I doing something wrong? 

“I’m speaking up for the athletes, why am I being targeted? 

“Why does the secretariat want to get involved? They should be helping out, not giving us problems.”

Pole vault coach Yeo and Yang were also involved in a disagreement with Hermann ahead of the Thailand Open after their request for youth athlete Cherlin Sia to compete in the meet to qualify for the SEA Games was rejected.

Yeo also questioned the group’s actions on Sunday. “It’s a bit crazy as this group chat consists of the secretariat,” he said. 

“What is their purpose? As far as the recent fight, I don’t see myself in the wrong.”

When contacted by TODAY, Balasekaran said that the group chat messages had been “illegally obtained” and “taken out of context”. According to the vice-president, Ho had disseminated the message to SA’s management committee (MC) on Sunday. 

“This was illegally was posted on Facebook and taken out of context,” said Balasekaran, who is an associate professor and the head of physical education and sports science at the National Institute of Education. 

“Mr Ng Ser Miang (International Olympic Committee member) told us to focus on the SEA Games. But is he (Ho) doing it? Now he’s illegally obtained this and sent it to the media and the MC. This message is private and this is a breach of privacy.

“Since he took office, he has been creating fights...he’s not fit to be a leader.

“Why I said that (about Oh)...she is stopping things from moving on, so we have to have evidence (of that). We cannot have a coach do whatever she wants.”

Oh had questioned the need for a camp in Taiwan as it was too close to the Games. She also felt that Taiwan’s climate was different from that of Kuala Lumpur, where the SEA Games will be held in August. 

Balasekaran refuted Oh’s claim, as he added: “The competition in Taiwan is to perk the athletes and sharpen them before the SEA Games. 

“It can be held in Singapore, but they’re still at home and they will still get smses and phone calls.”

He also said that they will meet with Pereira’s father on Monday to try to resolve the issue.

The latest developments come just two months after the sport was thrown into turmoil in April, when the association decided to call for a snap election to re-elect its management committee. 

Coming just 10 months after Ho’s team notched a decisive election victory over lawyer Edmond Pereira, the call was prompted by internal squabbles among the exco over a number of issues. 

The infighting saw the seven-member exco divided into two camps, with Ho and vice-president (competitions organising) Loh Chan Pew up against the other group led by Balasekaran. The snap polls were eventually called off after the parties met with Ng. 

When contacted, Ho called the latest developments a “witch hunt”. The athletics chief said he would leave it to the MC to resolve the matter, and that a disciplinary committee could be convened.

“This is very sad...they should work towards the good of the athletes and coaches,” he said.

“The SEA Games are so close and they should work to help the athletes perform. But now they are trying to get Margaret and David into trouble.

“Now, Shanti is very demoralised. To me, it’s about the country, not about the individuals.”